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PTSD: lifelong mental battle

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Zoe M. Wockenfuss
  • 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
“I’m running my house like a [military] base, my therapist tells me,” said Tech. Sgt. Steven Hall, 436th Logistics Readiness Squadron quality assurance technician.

Hall was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder 10 years after he was medically evacuated out of Baghdad during his first deployment in 2007.

“My wife finally told me to go get help,” Hall said. “She got tired of me not sleeping and got tired of having to wake me up out of nightmares where I’m running or fighting or where I’m completely drenched in sweat.”

PTSD is a mental health problem some people develop as a result of being exposed to or experiencing a life-threatening event, such as combat, according to the National Center for PTSD. About 10 percent of women and 4 percent of men experience PTSD at some point in their lives. Having PTSD isn’t uncommon and isn’t a sign of weakness, said Lt. Col. Paul DeFlorio, 436th Aerospace Medical Squadron commander and chief of Aerospace Medicine.

“Unfortunately, there are persistent stereotypes about PTSD,” said DeFlorio. “The idea that people with PTSD are weak, or just couldn’t hack it, is very corrosive and needs to be combatted; PTSD is a disease, not a weakness or a choice.”

PTSD and the military are commonly thought to be linked. Combat is a stressful experience and it’s one of the leading causes of PTSD. About 11-20 percent of Operation Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom veterans have been diagnosed with PTSD.

Symptoms include reliving traumatic events, avoiding situations that remind people of events, having more negative beliefs and feelings and hyperarousal. Additional problems that often accompany PTSD are depression, anxiety, drinking or drug problems, chronic pain, employment or relationship problems and a feeling of hopelessness.

Spotting the signs of PTSD often becomes the responsibility of the affected person’s spouse and children. It is essential for family members to be aware of the symptoms so they can assist and support their loved one through the disorder.

Some available treatment options are psychotherapy or medication, which can be used together or separately. Many people find better results with psychotherapy, also referred to as counseling or talk therapy. Counseling involves cognitive processing therapy, prolonged exposure, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing.

“I’ve got a pill for depression, a pill to sleep and a pill for nightmares,” said Hall. “Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t; it depends on the day.”

There are several resources for Airmen to seek help; they can reach out to a chaplain, mental health, a Military and Family Life Counselor, the Behavioral Health Optimization Program or their wingmen.

“My best advice for someone struggling with PTSD is to get help,” said DeFlorio. “It’s a syndrome that needs to be carefully diagnosed and treated, with the hope of making a recovery. While that process may take some time and effort, it’s ultimately what we’re all striving for in the Air Force medical community. We want people to get better, and get back to the life they were living before. It’s all about recovery.”

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